Latin America Climate, Energy and Environment News: 4/8 - 4/14/2012


Chile is increasingly tapping into solar energy. Solar energy is now powering schools, clinics, farms, tunnels, residential lighting systems and even neighborhoods in the Atacama region. In addition, six new photovoltaic systems totaling 706 megawatts recently began the environmental review process. The increased demand and capacity for solar energy is  prompting innovative  initiatives to implement solar cookers in local restaurants as well as a new plant that will use solar energy to irrigate local grape crops (Electricidad 4/09/2012).  

Quite predictably, last week’s Supreme Court decision allowing the HydrodAysėn project to continue  has been met with large citizen protests in Santiago and Valparaíso. But when activists went outside the protest route where the government had granted permission, they were met with a contingent of Special Forces preventing passage. Luis Mariano Rendón, a spokesmen for Ecological Action stated, “When you disagree with the government you protest outside its headquarters. That happens in all democratic countries of the world, but here it is prevented from reaching the Citizenry Square, the place where it is natural that dissatisfaction should be expressed to the administration” ( 4/11/2012).

An industrial mining project in Chile’s third region is predicted to have great environmental and energy consequences as the Cerro Casale industrial mining project will likely use more than 900 liters of water per second.  This new gold mining project will likely affect the Copiapo River basin, a region already inflicted with chronic water shortages. Proponents are aware of the water issue, and argue that the necessary water supplies will be taken from an aquifer outside the Copiapo River basin, but opponents say otherwise. Glaciologist Juan Pablo Milana stated, “There will be an effect on ecosystems. The Lama River is of great concern. The river runs through the plains of Maricunga. It's simple math applied to the hydrology of the desert. The rights were granted without an ecological study.” (Elmostrador 4/9/2012). 

The Director of Forest Services stated that this season has been the worst for forest fires in the past five years. Most recently from July 2011 to March 2012 over 81,434 hectares burned. The sources of the flames are being investigated, but a theory on arson is being pursued due to the simultaneous burning of a local bus, scooter, and carabiner outside of Santiago. Currently there is a law in parliament which aims to grant more power to the National Forest Corporation (Conaf) allowing it the authority to deal with forest fires on private land; but controversy lies in the fact that Conaf is a private corporation that would need to be public in order to handle matters on private lands (La Tercera 04/11/2012).

April 14th, marks the third annual environmental film festival in O’Higgins Park of Santiago. With the purpose of promoting environmental culture through community awareness and participation, the festival conducts talks, workshops, recycling, outdoor activities, and various presentations by national artists ( 4/14/2012).

Costa Rica

A recent study by Yale and Columbia University found that Costa Rica is the most environmentally oriented country in the Americas. The study looked at 132 countries in environmental categories ranging from agriculture to potable water. Costa Rica scored 63 out of 100 points ahead of Colombia, Brazil, Ecuador and Nicaragua. On a global scale Costa Rica was outranked by only three countries, Latvia, Luxembourg, and Norway (Revista Summa 4/10/2012).

In a recent interview, Michael Flynn, professor at Harvard University’s School of Design chimed in on infrastructure projects that could provide economic, social, and environmental benefits in San Jose. Flynn cited the most pressing problems in San Jose as infrastructure issues related to transport networks, open public space, systems of waste water treatment, urban ecosystem health, and natural resource conservation. Using the Brooklyn Bridge and High Line Park as well as Ecuador’s recent Lake Park as examples of urban planning successes, Flynn displayed confidence in San Jose as a progressive city with much potential for infrastructure improvement (Diario Financiero 4/13/2012).

The Costa Rican Institute of Electricity (ICE) is moving to generate Costa Rica’s future public transportation energy needs from natural gas resources. ICE, in partnership with the Costa Rican Petroleum Refinery (Recope), is conducting economic feasibility studies as research thus far shows that natural gas products produce 30 percent less carbon than petroleum products and are overall more cost-effective. ICE is also looking at substituting bunker and diesel with natural gas for power generation. One of the main hurdles to utilizing natural gas however is the fact that natural gas requires a gasification plant to produce compressed gas, an estimated cost of $75 million dollars for construction.  This funding is yet to be defined by ICE or Recope (La Nación 04/09/2012).

A new “app” is giving the international community the ability to learn more about environmental issues through the click of a button. The new interactive game developed by two Costa Ricans, Alejandro Mostajo and José Cruz  for android phones can be downloaded and installed for free. The game, based on country statistics developed by the World Bank, challenges users to obtain virtual low carbon footprints for the country of their choosing (La Nación 4/12/2012).


Baja California has the potential to generate 19,000 jobs in the energy sector in two decades according to economic professor Alejandro Diaz Bautista. Most of the jobs would be in the wind sector which if properly harnessed could put Mexico at the forefront of wind energy projects. Much of this energy opportunity lies on the US-Mexican border where according to Bautista, direct economic development potential is the largest (Reve 4/11/2012). Mexico will also receive a boost in solar energy as a private investment of $700 million dollars from US company SolFocus will fund a 450 megawatt solar farm in Tecate, Baja California. Construction should commence by 2013 (El 4/9/2012).

To follow up on last week’s phenomenon where 811 meters of Baja California beach slipped into the sea, the Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources, Juan Rafael Elvira Quesada visited the damaged area to verify the reported facts. No further conclusions have been drawn as to the cause of the beach loss, but investigations are continuing (Evernote 4/9/2012).

As drought continues throughout Mexico, experts warn of the critical effects it will have on rural populations. In 2011, the country lost 3.2 million tons of maize, 600,000 tons of beans, and thousands of livestock alerting the country of the widespread effects of climate change. Representatives from the Mexican Council for Sustainable Rural Development presented a proposal to establish a  family farm where each family is given 20 to 30 hens to help provide meat and nourishment throughout the year (NTR 4/07/2012).

Composed by Amanda Wheat

Note: The linked articles and excerpts in this post are provided for informational purposes only and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of the Natural Resources Defense Council.